GITHURAI, Kenya, May 9 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Now
onto his third job since finishing high school a decade ago,
Festus Chege is hoping his latest venture as a water vendor in
Githurai, a growing suburb to the south of Kenya's capital
Nairobi, will pay off.
Like many young people from poor families, the 30-year-old
passed his high-school exams but lacked the funds to pursue his
studies, confining him to work in the city’s fast-expanding
Kenya’s current drought, which is affecting some 3 million
people across the East African country, has led to a drop in
water volumes in reservoirs serving Nairobi residents.
The city authorities have been forced to ration water
services, giving priority to critical facilities like hospitals,
as well as manufacturers.
Taps in poor households are now empty of piped water most of
the time, and they have little choice but to buy their water
from vendors like Chege.
“The water business is good,” said Chege, who has been
selling water for the past four months. “People call me to
supply them with water as early as 4 am.”
Chege, who uses a rickshaw to transport the water, sells
20-litre drums of water for 50 shillings ($0.49) each. In a day,
he can supply as many as 40 drums, earning him 2,000 shillings -
more than double a government clerk's wage.
It's five times more than what he was making last year
hawking secondhand clothes.
“There were days when I would find myself idle because of a
lack of customers,” said Chege. That’s when he would join his
friends to smoke bhang, a form of cannabis - a common pastime
among young slum-dwellers who take the drug in secret dens.
Now, Chege says he no longer has time to mess around with
drugs because he is busy from dawn to dusk selling water.
In January this year, he joined a youth group called Ni Sisi
Sasa (“It is our time”), which helps jobless young people in the
neighbourhood improve their lives. One activity it offers is
The group has a water depot in Githurai, which purchases its
supply from the Kiambu County Council water unit.
Group members like Chege buy water from the depot at low
rates and resell it to local residents at a profit.
“By the end of the year, I want to make enough money so that
I can enroll in a teacher training college,” said Chege. He
plans to continue supporting the group even if he realises his
ambition of becoming a teacher.
According to the Nairobi City Water and Sewerage Company
(NCWSC), the capital’s residents need 740,000 cubic metres of
water daily to meet demand.
Currently only 462,000 cubic metres of water are being
supplied due to declining water levels in the Ndakaini
reservoir, said Philip Gichuki, NCWSC’s managing director.
The reservoir, which supplies 85 percent of the city’s
water, has a capacity of 70 million cubic metres, but due to
poor rains this season, it is only around 40 percent full.
For instance, the Aberdares water tower in central Kenya -
the source of rivers feeding the reservoir – has received just
250 mm of rain since December, way below the 1,000 mm it would
normally receive in the rainy season, said Gichuki.
“The shortage has forced us to ration water,” said Nairobi
County's executive for water, Peter Kimori. “Estates have been
forced to look for alternative sources due to the rationing.”
The county government plans to sink 140 boreholes in
Nairobi’s fringe estates to ward off future water shortages.
But experts like Gichuki say more will be needed to meet
demand in the capital due to its growing population, as rural
migrants flock to areas like Githurai where many find work as
According to the World Bank, there are over 4 million people
– around a tenth of Kenya’s population - living in Nairobi and
its suburbs. In 1963, when Kenya attained independence, the city
was home to only a third of a million people.
Gichuki said the solution was to upgrade the city’s water
“(It) has not been developed since post-independence days,”
said Gichuki. “This is leading to the increasing water pressure
and shortage in Nairobi.”
Fred Kihara, water fund manager at The Nature Conservancy,
an international NGO, said the worsening water problem in
Nairobi is linked to climate change, as rainfall volumes in
central Kenya have declined.
On top of this, the government is not doing enough to
conserve water towers like the Aberdares, he added, by
preventing forests being cut down for farming, for instance.
“Clearing of trees reduces the soil’s ability to retain
water which seeps into rivers feeding reservoirs like Ndakaini
dam,” said Kihara, explaining that without trees, the water
Meanwhile, Kenya’s Central Organization of Trade Unions says
4 million jobs are needed for the country to cut poverty to zero
Youth unemployment has shrunk to 15 percent from 25 percent
in 2006, as the economy's informal sector has expanded.
“I am able to do this (water) business because the
government has removed harsh regulation on the informal sector,”
said Chege. “There is less harassment from tax officials.”
But he called for better access to government support such
as the youth enterprise development fund, which is hard to tap
for young people without political connections.
($1 = 103.0500 Kenyan shillings)
(Reporting by Kagondu Njagi; editing by Megan Rowling; Please
credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of
Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change,
resilience, women's rights, trafficking and property rights.